Crowdsourcing: What It Is, How It Works, Why You Should Care & How To Do It!

Crowdsourcing: What It Is, How It Works, Why You Should Care & How To Do It!

Crowdsourcing is here to stay. It’s a subject I find fascinating because it combines three of my favorite things: efficiency, simplicity and community.

And I’d like to demonstrate to you what it is, how it works and why you should care.

So we have a lot to cover here. This is probably going to be a pretty long post but bear with me because it will be worth it.

Let’s start at the beginning…

What Is Crowdsourcing?

Well here is the wikipedia definition:

Crowdsourcing is a process that involves outsourcing tasks to a distributed group of people. This process can occur both online and offline. Crowdsourcing is different from an ordinary outsourcing since it is a task or problem that is outsourced to an undefined public rather than a specific body. An example of specific body is paid employees from a company.

The subtle key in this definition is that the ‘crowd’ is the undefined public. It’s a group of individuals which the task originator has little or no control over – at least little to no direct control and in some cases no control at all – and that’s the interesting part.

The ‘crowd’ is the undefined public.

There has been a significant shift in the way companies do business – did you see it?

For a while now big companies have been growing because they are happy to give up control and let the ‘crowd’ define their main product. This is quite a big step and the first companies to explore this needed to have some cahunas.

Instead of lingering around the definition, it might be easier if I just show you…

Would A Simple Example Help?

Let’s suppose you wanted to try a little crowdsourcing experiment of your own.

Something simple.

Let’s imagine a fairly simple task. You want to create a new playlist (in old terms, ‘a compilation CD‘… in even older terms, ‘a mix tape‘ ;-)).

Creating The Playlist On Your Own

If you did this on your own it would require quite a bit of thought, sifting through the thousands of songs in your collection (you do have thousands of songs in your collection, right?) and answering questions to yourself such as ‘Have I heard that song too much?’.

But it’s a simple enough task in the end.

You could create the playlist in anything from around 15 minutes to an hour of effort depending upon how fussy you are.

Creating The Playlist Using Crowdsourcing

Crowdsourcing adds an extra dimension we have not yet discussed – you get the experience, mind and voice of the crowd. In our super-simple example that translates to their taste in music, rather than just your own (in more complicated examples, you can imagine this access to the crowd’s experience can be really powerful – i.e. it’s not just more capacity, it’s more and different experience).

You get the experience, mind and voice of the crowd.

Back to our example… To create our playlist using the crowd we ask 100 people for their favorite song. Let’s say 20 respond, which is enough for our playlist and a reasonable response rate to expect, then we quickly and easily have a playlist. The beauty of doing it this way is:

  1. It takes a lot less effort from each individual. It only takes a couple of minutes to tell someone your favorite song. It also only takes that time or less to ask someone their favorite song.
  2. The result will be a playlist which includes the tastes of the crowd – meaning you may just discover some music you’d never heard before.

Introducing: The Life’s Too Good Playlist

Just to make it a little clearer – I’ll show you.

I actually did conduct this little experiment exactly as described above.

I asked 100 people from our subscriber list for their favorite song and with around 20 responses, the resulting playlist, The Life’s Too Good Playlist, is shown below.

If you sent me your favorite song, please claim your song by leaving a brief comment below. Just let us know that you spotted your song on the list and tell us which song is yours.

The Life’s Too Good Playlist (In Order of Responses Received)

  1. Learning To Fly – Pink Floyd
  2. Dancing In The Moonlight – King Harvest
  3. I Will Survive – Gloria Gaynor
  4. Lust – Tori Amos
  5. I Love You What Can I Say – Jerry Reed
  6. Big Jet Plane – Angus & Julia Stone
  7. Fade – Solu featuring Kimblee
  8. Radioactive – Kings of Leon
  9. Yumeji’s Theme – Shigeru Umebayashi
  10. Bubbly – Colbie Caillet
  11. Country Roads – John Denver
  12. Just A Boy – Angus & Julia Stone
  13. Wish You Were Here – Pink Floyd
  14. He Went To Paris – Jimmy Buffet
  15. The Last Farewell – Roger Whitaker
  16. What A Wonderful World – Louis Armstrong
  17. Ev’rything I’ve Got – Ella Fitzgerald
  18. Caledonia – Frankie Miller
  19. The Queen and The Soldier – Suzanne Vega
  20. Black Heart – Sooshie
  21. Beautiful Day – U2

By the way, this is not my list.

This is our list. I did choose one song in there just like everyone else and OK, I had the idea and put it together (neither of which were very difficult), but you own this list just as much as I do.

So I actually have created this list and burned it onto a CD. I’ve already listened to it a couple of times in the car. It puts a smile on my face, because for me this is not just a list of songs but it reminds me of our awesome readers and Life’s Too Good.

As an added bonus, just putting it together I got to know just a little bit more about those of you who responded – having some quite in-depth conversations with a couple of you where we went on a little music taste journey. I do love music.

What’s Next

To put this in business terms, you could imagine this as a product that we created with minimal effort. Because of advances in social media and technology for communication as well as the creation and marketing of products, you have possibilities like never before and YOU can create things very very easily.

In this case I deliberately carried out the very simplest example I could think of to prove a point and show how crowdsourcing works at a very basic level. We could obviously take this further because the next steps when you have a product, even a very basic one, is that you then have something you can work with, refine, market, produce etc etc etc… and that holds true by the way even if it’s just an idea.

Even if it’s something as simple as a playlist.

Why You Should Care

In case you haven’t noticed, the world is changing fast and the concept of ‘the crowd’ is a bigger and bigger part of not only business, but of everyday life. Political regimes have been toppled recently thanks to technological advances enabling masses of people who would otherwise be silenced to have a voice – and you’re more impacted by crowdsourcing than you know.

We’re All Part of The Crowd

These days we’re most likely part of a crowdsourcing solution in our everyday lives whether we realize it or not. That’s because since the internet really started to take off (and particularly when something called ‘Web 2.0’ came along) savvy companies have built a feedback loop into their core business processes, in fact for a lot of companies, the customer is the product.

These days we’re most likely part of a crowdsourcing solution in our everyday lives whether we realize it or not.

Apple, Amazon, Google, Twitter… When you send a social media update, you have just expanded that platform’s brand, you have successfully contributed to their business. Don’t get me started on Google…

Good or Bad?

You could see these changes as quite scary.

The world is indeed moving at a fast pace.

We can always step off and get back to nature (which I like too) but the advances in technology will keep happening and next time we tune in there will most likely always be someone listening for your voice if you want to join in.

So is this a good or a bad thing?

Personally, on balance I don’t mind the idea that I am contributing to various businesses as part of some crowd or other almost every minute of every day. I’m not naive enough to think that it’s all good news though. A very real by-product of this is that you need to be very careful who can see your data, which data they have and have not got about you and what they can do with it.

On that note – we have a very strict privacy policy, comments are very safe, email addresses are not shown and are used strictly for validation purposes only (just thought maybe it was a good moment to mention that). I’m talking more about the big players here – the ‘big brother’s‘ of this world (yes, Facebook, I mean you).

Anyways, not to labor the point here, there is obviously a good and a bad side to all of this. Overall I think it’s good though – and did I say I find it fascinating?

What do you think?

Please do let me know in the comments, I promise, promise, promise your comments are safe here.

A Cool Infographic From One Of The Biggest Crowdsourcing Companies Out There

Note: You can click on the image to view a ‘zoomable’ version in your browser.

99Designs clearly ‘get’ the idea of crowdsourcing.

Their whole business model is based upon it.

The way 99Designs works just in case you haven’t heard of them, is that they provide graphic design work for a very competitive price and to a very high standard. The way they do this is by taking a potential clients requirements and providing a platform for potential graphic designers to compete for that work in a virtual competition. As part of that competition the designers will actually provide the designs and the client pays for the one they like the most. This way the client gets to see lots of choice, possibilities, different ideas (remember that point about getting the wisdom and different experiences of the crowd?) and the competition drives up the quality too.


The Power Of Crowdsourcing Infographic


Another Simple Example (Which Lead To A Very Successful Product)

Just in case you thought the playlist example above was a little simplistic, here is another example which is just as simple in concept (i.e. a single simple question put out to the crowd and then creating something from the collected responses) – an ebook.

Danny Iny also ‘gets’ the idea of crowdsourcing.

To create his very popular e-book ‘Engagement From Scratch’, Danny asked a number of well known bloggers a single simple question “How would you build engagement if you were starting again from scratch?”. He then collated all of the answers into an e-book, structured it and added some linking commentary of his own. What happened next? Well, with a little marketing (Danny is something of a marketing expert), the book became a huge hit.

Though Danny almost certainly did a tremendous amount of work promoting that book, he didn’t need to produce much content at all – probably less than 10% of it – all of the main content of the book was provided by ‘the crowd’ – in his case a crowd of reputable bloggers.

Do you see how similar this is to the simple playlist example above?

The beauty of this particular example is that Danny was able to gain tremendous leverage from the names of the contributors and in turn enhanced his own reputation and brand (this is what is known as referent authority).

In fact the cover of that book is very simple too but very clever – it is all of the contributors names written all over the cover on a white background – genius. If you were interested in how to gain engagement, wouldn’t you like to read the combined wisdom of all of those famous bloggers who have been there, seen it, done it and succeeded in that field?

More On Crowdsourcing

As I said at the start, crowdsourcing is here to stay, and I don’t know about you but I find it fascinating.

We can also break tasks into lots of smaller tasks and give them to computers or separate computer programs like never before too – that’s a lot like crowdsourcing too.

We’ve only just scratched the surface here.

There’s still an awful lot we haven’t covered – specifically how, if you are interested in crowdsourcing something more complex, where would you go to find a ‘crowd’ to help you? What are some other applications of crowdsourcing?

This really is a huge area and there’s lots more I could share with you but we’ve probably covered enough for one post so we’ll leave it there for now and I’ll follow this up shortly with some more applications, success stories and examples and some further research on the subject.

If you have questions on the subject, then let me know and perhaps I can answer these in the next article on this subject.

Update – here’s that follow-up: Crowdsourcing II: 10 Interesting and Varied Crowdsourcing Examples.

Over To You

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

How could crowdsourcing be useful to you? Is it just an interesting subject which shows us how much and how quickly the world is changing around us or is it actually something you could or you already plan to use?

Did you join the favorite song experiment? What did/do you think?

Do you have experience with crowdsourcing already you’d like to share?


Crowdsourcing: What It Is, How It Works, Why You Should Care & How To Do It! — 22 Comments

  1. Hi Alan,
    My choice was Beautiful Day by U2. Your article on crowdsourcing is quite interesting. Makes a big task get smaller. Also there’s the quote ‘ when you want help you have to ask for it’. Will check some of the other songs too – thanks !

    • Thanks Adrienne,

      thanks so much for taking part – it’s been a lot of fun (and still is) – did you also vote for your favorite which you didn’t choose – check out the separate page I’ve created, I put all the vids on there so you can listen to any of the songs directly on the page if you like 😉 …

      anyways, yours was a popular choice. Watch out for the follow-up crowdsourcing article too – I’ll be posting that later today…

      Happy New Year to you, take care & best wishes,

  2. Finally here to claim my song as a part of your fun and informative post. Mine was #5.

    My apologies for being so tardy. Our business is part service and part retail. And, this is Christmas time. And (breathing hard) we have been extremely busy shipping out products including some new products created at the request of our friends.

    I guess in a way that is crowdsourcing because when we create a new guided journal at someone’s request that journal then goes on our sales page and is available for others.

    • Hey Yvonne,

      You are a star. You take as long as you like, I knew you would drop by and leave a comment, just like I knew you would join in – I really appreciate your support as ever.

      Great news that your business is doing well and you have extra orders, that’s the kind of busy we like! I also love that some of the extra work you have is so customer focused and personalised. That’s the kind of business we all need to be in whether you’re selling shoes or ideas.

      With customer feedback built so much into your sales process, for sure you are crowdsourcing, and the more you can involve your customers the better your products will be.

      take care, best wishes and have a fabulous festive season,


  3. That was a nice experiment Alan. Love the result of the list. Crowd-sourcing is pretty impressive and fascinating indeed.

    • Thanks Dourgi!

      Yes it worked out quite well, the main point being it was quick and easy (which as you noticed demonstrates the leverage & scale which is one of the main attractions of crowdsourcing in the first place).

    • … and there was me thinking I’d explained it quite well 🙁

      nope, not really. Crowdsourcing involves giving a task or project to the crowd, sure that task could be just asking for information or an opinion like a poll, but the point is that you are ‘sourcing’ the work from the crowd and the work could be anything.

      Watch this space if you want more examples. I’m also thinking of taking the experiment a little further but will see what people think…

    • Hey Patty,

      thanks so much for taking part & for choosing such a great song!

      I like this one because I’d never heard it before, and that’s one of the points of this experiment – it’s one of the 9 songs I never heard before & I like it so thanks!

      It’s not the reason I did the experiment of course (I did it for the article and to prove how it works) but a very interesting side-effect.

      Did you learn any new songs from this?

  4. Here to claim my #14 selection. The list has a lot of variety and some new songs/artists for me to try. When you sent out the email, I was wondering where you would go with this and now I know. Good idea for conveying the crowd aspect that is available these days.

    • Awesome.

      The warm summer breezes, the French wines & cheeses…

      … he should really have gone to Nice or Antibes – the cheeses are better there and the breezes are warmer. Nice song choice. Another one I’d never heard before.

      Thanks again for taking part in this Andy – song choices like this one make what was a very simple experiment work very well.

  5. Awesome experiment, Alan!

    Love how you gave the music list example to illustrate the potential crowdsourcing can have in a business environment, with a product.

    I feel like blogging is all about always taking your readers’ feedback into account. And it’s the same for big companies, be they product sellers or not. Being flexile and hearing others out is the best way to improve and get to the next level of quality in every domain.

    • Thanks Andrew,

      & thanks for a great comment. I personally find it fascinating. When I read through my first draft of the article I’d used the word fascinating 6 times so I had to cut a few out 😉

      It is amazing how this is being used in a business sense all around us. It’s actually shaping culture and business models more than we probably realize.

      Personally I think we are experiencing a new age or a new revolution (i.e. like the iron age or the industrial age/revolution) – companies since Henry Ford revolutionised industry with mass production of the model T have been built around products and the factory mentality based on division of labor – now we’re seeing companies realize (Amazon, Zappos, Google…) that the opposite is what needs to happen – i.e. connecting people (staff/resources) instead of putting them in cubicles.

      but then perhaps that’s a whole new topic…

  6. My contribution was #2. What a fascinating mixture of musical styles, eras, themes, etc. etc.! It clearly illustrates the diversity of your community of readers. And this was also a great way to illustrate the concept of crowdsourcing; I now have a much better understanding of it. Thank you!

    • Hey Barb,

      oh well, nearly the first reply 😉

      You just reminded me, there’s actually one song I need to take out as one of our contributors changed his submission…

      Thank you so much for taking part in this and for being one of the first people to respond. I really appreciate it and had a lot of fun putting this together – I’m glad you had fun reading it 😉

      take care & very best wishes,

  7. Kings of Leon = my suggestion 🙂

    Not sure how I would use it but I think the notion of crowdsourcing is great. Two heads are better than one – 100 heads even more so!

  8. Awesome post Alan – I loved it! Not only was song number 12 on the list mine (and my husband’s wedding song also!), but you have just given *two* great ideas.

    1: I’m definitely going to us 99Designs for my new pet business project – I was really dreading the idea of having to go down the design agency route again (last time I was only quoted upwards of £14k for a project!)

    2: How I can use crowdsourcing to make a vital decision about the breadth of my new business project out here in the UAE.

    Thank you doesn’t seem to cover it 🙂

    • I can’t tell you how happy I was to read your comment Hedeel, I’m really pleased you got so much value out of this article and thanks again for joining in with my little experiment 😉

      What’s even better…

      You taught me something here too – about a new artist (well, artists) I’d never heard of before.

      Thanks again & I hope all goes well with your pet business project – give me a shout if there’s anything I can help you with & if I can, I will!

      Warning – sometimes these ‘pets’ can turn into monsters 😉

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *